November 22, 2023

Alcohol Detox: Symptoms, Treatments, & Medication

image of man representing alcohol detox

Detox from alcohol is the first step in treating alcoholism (alcohol use disorder). During this time, alcohol is completely flushed from your body. Withdrawal symptoms normally subside within approximately a week or two after detoxing from alcohol, although this could take longer depending on the severity of your addiction.

Alcohol is a CNS depressant that your body begins to rely on over time. Your brain stops producing chemicals that alcohol is providing, becoming dependent on the substance. It takes a while after discontinuation for the body to adjust. This process is what triggers withdrawal symptoms like headaches, nausea, fever, irregular heartbeat, and hallucinations. Engaging with a supervised alcohol detox will reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and minimize the likelihood of relapsing during early recovery. Read on to learn more about the following issues:

  • What is the best way to detox from alcohol?
  • How long does it take to detox from alcohol?

Alcohol Detox Symptoms

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Alcoholic detox symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening in intensity. The severity and duration of your alcohol use disorder often influence the withdrawal symptoms experienced. Individuals with a history of prolonged heavy drinking are more susceptible to serious withdrawal effects, such as seizures or DTs (delirium tremens).

Mild symptoms of detoxing from alcohol include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

Meanwhile, more severe alcohol detox withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Disorientation
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens 
  • Seizures

Although rare, delirium tremens is the most severe effect of alcohol withdrawal. It can manifest within two to five days after your last drink and can pose a life-threatening risk. That said, only a small percentage of individuals (fewer than 5%) will develop delirium tremens upon quitting alcohol.

How long to detox from alcohol, then? This is a typical alcohol detox timeline:

  • Hours 6 to 12: In the first few hours after the last drink, individuals may start to experience mild alcoholism detox symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, and headaches. These early signs can gradually intensify, leading to increased heart rate, tremors, and irritability.
  • Days 1 to 3: Within the first 24 to 72 hours, the symptoms of alcohol detox can peak, presenting as severe complications like hallucinations, confusion, and in some cases, seizures. It is during this critical period that medical supervision and support are vital to ensure the person’s safety and to reduce the risk of relapse.
  • Days 4 to 7: As the body continues to adjust to the absence of alcohol, the severity of withdrawal symptoms normally begins to decrease. While some people may still experience lingering effects like insomnia, mood swings, and persistent cravings, the worst of the physical symptoms often start to subside.
  • Days 7 and beyond: Following the initial alcohol detox stages, some people may still experience psychological symptoms, including depression and anxiety, as the brain and body continue to recalibrate without the presence of alcohol. Continued support, therapy, and aftercare programs are essential during this period to address the emotional and psychological aspects of recovery.

Given the potential seriousness of certain withdrawal symptoms, alcohol detox should be supervised by a healthcare professional. This is especially beneficial for those with a history of lung or heart diseases or other medical conditions, since withdrawal symptoms can escalate rapidly. Your treatment specialist will monitor your blood pressure and heart rate to ensure that your condition does not deteriorate. Feel free to communicate any symptoms or discomfort you may be experiencing to your medical team, as this information can aid in determining the most effective medication to alleviate your distress.

image of man representing alcohol detox symptoms

Alcohol Flu

Alcohol flu is a term that is sometimes used colloquially to describe the physical and psychological symptoms experienced by individuals who have recently stopped or significantly reduced their alcohol intake. It typically includes symptoms similar to those of the common flu – nausea, vomiting, headaches, and fatigue, for instance. However, these symptoms are directly linked to alcohol withdrawal and the body’s adjustment to the absence of alcohol. The term alcohol flu serves as a way to convey the discomfort and unease often associated with this phase of alcohol detoxification, highlighting the challenges individuals may face during their journey to sobriety. Seek professional guidance and support when dealing with alcohol flu and alcohol withdrawal symptoms to maximize the safety and effectiveness of the recovery process.

Alcohol Detox Treatments

Alcohol detox treatments can help those struggling with alcohol use disorder to safely manage the physical and psychological symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. Medical professionals often utilize various methods to ensure a smooth and comfortable detoxification process. These treatments may include medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, therapy sessions to address psychological distress, and constant monitoring by healthcare providers to ensure safety and well-being.

Some common alcohol detox treatments include the use of benzodiazepines to reduce the risk of seizures and other severe withdrawal symptoms, nutritional support to replenish essential vitamins and minerals, and psychological counseling to address underlying issues contributing to alcohol use. Additionally, medical professionals may administer intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and maintain electrolyte balance, ensuring a stable recovery environment for individuals undergoing alcohol detoxification.

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication

Medical intervention during alcohol withdrawal can help manage severe symptoms and reduce the risk of potentially life-threatening complications. Several FDA-approved medications are commonly used to alleviate the physical and psychological distress associated with alcohol withdrawal.

  • Benzodiazepines: These medications, including chlordiazepoxide and diazepam, are widely prescribed to prevent seizures and manage anxiety and insomnia during alcohol detoxification.
  • Anticonvulsants: FDA-approved anticonvulsants, such as gabapentin and topiramate, can be utilized to control seizures and stabilize mood disturbances that may occur during alcohol withdrawal.
  • Naltrexone: Approved by the FDA for the treatment of alcohol dependence, naltrexone helps reduce alcohol cravings and prevent relapse by blocking the euphoric effects of alcohol consumption.
  • Acamprosate: This medication is commonly used to maintain abstinence and reduce alcohol cravings during the recovery process by stabilizing the chemical balance in the brain disrupted by chronic alcohol use.
  • Disulfiram: FDA-approved disulfiram is indicated as a deterrent to alcohol consumption by inducing unpleasant side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, when alcohol is consumed.
  • Topiramate: Although primarily an anticonvulsant, topiramate can be effective in reducing alcohol cravings and promoting abstinence in individuals with alcohol use disorder.

These medications, when administered under the guidance and supervision of medical professionals, can significantly aid in the safe and effective management of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and support long-term recovery from alcohol use disorder.

An image of a woman using addiction hotline's to find alcohol detox symptoms treatment

Call Addiction Hotline Today to Get Treatment for Alcohol Detox

If you or a family member needs help detoxing from alcohol but doesn’t know which way to turn, call Addiction Hotline right now for immediate assistance.

Call toll-free any time and speak with a trained professional who can connect you with detoxification services throughout the state of California. Speak in complete confidence and find out how to kickstart your recovery from alcoholism.

Hotline staff can also refer you to treatment providers and addiction specialists near you, allowing you to address the psychological component of alcohol addiction and set a firm foundation for sustained sobriety.

Call 855-701-0479 today and begin your recovery from alcohol use disorder tomorrow.

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